CIE Spotlight: Extreme nomadism in desert waterbirds: flights of the banded stilt

Banded stiltsTitleExtreme nomadism in desert waterbirds: flights of the banded stilt.

AuthorsR. D. Pedler, R. F. H. Ribot and A. T. D. Bennett.

Source: Biology Letters, October 2014 vol. 10 (10).

Brief summary of the paper: In contrast to well-studied Northern Hemisphere birds with spatially and temporally predictable seasonal migrations, waterbirds in desert biomes face major challenges in exploiting stochastic, rich, yet short-lived resource pulses in vast arid landscapes, leading to the evolution of nomadic behaviour.

An extreme example is the banded stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus), an opportunistic colonial breeder at remote inland salt lakes after infrequent rain events.

Using satellite telemetry on 21 birds (tracked for a mean of 196.2 days), we reveal extensive, rapid and synchronized movement among individuals to and from salt lakes. Two birds left coastal refugia for the inland following rain, flying 1000–2000 km, while 12 others rapidly moved a mean of 684 km (range 357–1298 km) away from drying inland sites to the coast. Two individuals moved longitudinally across the continent, departing and arriving at the same points, yet travelling very different routes; one bird moving more than 2200 km in less than 2.5 days, the other more than 1500 km in 6 days.

Our findings reveal movements nearly twice as long and rapid as recorded in other desert waterbirds. We reveal capability to rapidly detect and exploit ephemeral wetland resource pulses across the stochastic Australian desert.

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